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"A fast-paced, suspenseful dystopian picaresque, part Huck Finn and part bizarro-world Swiss Family Robinson..."



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Long-listed for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award and finalist for the Crawford Award. Title short story listed for the 2000 O. Henry award.

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A Brood of Foxes by Kristin Livdahl

I very well might be biased, since Kristin is my wife, but A Brood of Foxes-a standalone novella that has just come out from Aqueduct Press-is a stunning work of fiction. But I will do my best to explain why I enjoy it so much, and why I believe it’s pushing the boundaries of fantasy in interesting and heart-felt ways, and hopefully you can decide for yourself.

A Brood of Foxes by Kristin Livdahl

The novella is a romance in the oldest sense of that term-a grand adventure of self-discovery by one Joey Napoleon, who has been under the care and tutelage of Mudhen, who “gathered” her one day by throwing an unhurtful stone at her from her home. So Joey went in Mudhen’s house and stayed for a few years. This is a little hint of the easy, playful magic realism that moves through this novella. (SEEMINGLY effortless-but this is some of the hardest stuff to write, like, ever). Eventually, though, Joey gets bored and decides to strike out on her own, where she runs into a fox, a very attractive, alluring fox.

The suckerpunches aren’t sugar-coated, either:

A fox can be wild and beautiful and clever and more than a little cruel. Mudhen always told her that you can tell a fox by its tale, although sometimes you could tell by its tail. Joey wasn’t sure abou the fox’s tale, but he sure did talk a lot.

Their relationship is fraught with lots of ups and downs, especially when Mudhen ends up missing, and Joey realizes she needs that fox for more than she initially thought. She’s foolish at times but also a little hard on herself. Eventually, after a long journey, they come to a place with an intractable level of environmental devastation that can’t be willed or magically whisked away.

This last part is where the novella really earns its keep, as the pace really changes in the second half. It slows down as Joey does some actual problem solving on a massive issue. There are no magical quests or wand wavings or displays of boyish bravado. This is what makes A Brood of Foxes so impressive for me, and so subversive. There are a lot of gestures in the fantasy field lately toward having an imaginary world mimic contemporary concerns-but in A Brood of Foxes, the shape of the narrative changes to reflect the very human cost of these concerns. There are no quick fixes or any lame “journey of the hero(ine)” knock-offs while paying lip service to some kind of transgressive ideal. No boss battles! So all that whimsy and characterization in the first half pays off when our protagonists are faced with a draining, perplexing problem, one that requires no small amount of trial and error and patience-which is vividly depicted in the shape of the prose itself. (Kristin has worked most of her life in nonprofits, and I think that a lot of her time with those experiencing homelessness colors a lot of her writing, but especially this). The part sections of the novella go through the Parts of the Egg-the shell, the white, the yolk-in getting to the heart of the matter. It’s a penetrating meditation, in the end, on healing and love in the midst of communal adversity.

Buy it. Kristin will also be reading and signing on Wednesday March 9th at Common Good Books in St. Paul at 7:30.

Sun, March 6 2011 » Fiction

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